Holy Moses! Coren is Dave’s dish of the day

It was during one of the many lengthy selection meetings for our speech-writing squad, held around Easter, that the name Coren was first mentioned.

“Are we really reduced to satirists? And deceased satirists at that,” said Maude, whose displays of dry wit provide, for many of us, the only reason to show up at these interminable occasions.

“Vicky?” said Andy Coulson, whose penchant for what I have actually heard him term “posh totty” provides the only adequate explanation for him joining our side (along with being fired from his previous job, of course).

“Giles,” said little Steve Hilton, whose patience is often remarked upon.

It wasn’t the most ringing of endorsements but it transpired that Osborne was a fan of Giles’s restaurant column and, in a thin market, that was enough. Calls were made and within a week G C was writing in the Times about how it was now perfectly acceptable for people of taste and refinement (like, to name but one, himself) to support the Tories. It was neither the best-written nor best-reasoned piece, and its only novelty was his surprising claim that he allegedly went to Oxford (Poly?), but it was enough to keep him in the team.

And so matters meandered along until the Times printed last week the most absurd “news story” claiming that Cameron was related to Moses. I was with David when he read this for the first time and fully expected him to dismiss it with a trademark raised eyebrow before tossing the paper aside, but instead he murmured something (in, I think, Hebrew) and filed the article away. It would not surprise me a jot on my next visit to his loo to see it framed and hanging on the left-hand side of his photograph of the 1984 Members of Pop. Fortunately, no other news agencies ran with it and it might have been forgotten by everyone but Dave. Might have been, that is, if Coren had not treated us to a hilarious article on “Dave as Moses”, which was exactly as unfunny as you would expect anything labelled hilarious to be. It fell to me to read the riot act.

Cheaper than the skate it is his job to comment upon, Coren doubled up his lunch with me with a visit to a restaurant he was keen to review and, as a result, there was much faffing around as he sought to retain his anonymity.

“I’ve been on the telly recently, don’t you know,” was one of many uninteresting things he would tell me.
Once we were ensconced in a corner booth I interrupted yet more talk about his life by bringing up the subject of the column. “Did you like it?” he asked. “Be honest here, what did you really like about it?” he further asked. “Did Dave say anything?” he finally asked before I could get a word in.
“It was well up to standard, one of your better efforts, even,” I reassured him. “But in future it might make sense, if you are thinking of essaying ‘a political piece’, to run it past me first.”

My tone was mild, his reaction apoplectic. “Bastard,” he screamed, leaping to his feet. “I am Giles Coren,” he continued at the same level, thereby rather blowing his hard-worked-upon cover, “and no one, N-O-O-N-E touches my copy. I am an artist, not a mere hack.”
“Absolutely,” I replied, picking up the menu. “Now the party’s paying, so shall we go à la carte? Is there anything you can’t eat?”

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, King and Country

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.